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The Oversimplification of a Child Hero's World

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 1, 2019
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Happy June 1st everyone!

I have been youtube-crawling today around the cinema pop-culture side. And as I was watching assorted comments and commentary on a whole lot of YA (i.e. Young Adult) and children's books and TV/film/animation series, from Harry Potter to The Last Airbender to the Power Rangers I thought about the one common thing they share: the nerfed adults.

Nerfed when the story wants the kid to shine, that is.

Granted, some series or books or premises where the heroes that save the day are pre-teens have a somewhat believable (or quite believable) premise why the whole world relies on teenagers and not, say, their adult mentors or teachers to do what needs to be done, but most of them don't really.

It's not enough excuse that a child is “the Chosen One” to have that kid be at the front line of a confrontation that doesn't take place in the school area or something.


This is NOT what I was referring to.

In fact, putting the Chosen One in the front line while still a child is the worst thing you can do to make a prophecy fulfill itself (unless the Chosen One has plot armor). While still a child, even with remarkable abilities or powers, the Chosen One will still be inexperienced, and that means inefficient or even dangerous.

On top of that, having criminally negligent adults as examples to grow up around, it's hard to believe the Chosen One will have grown to have the discipline, ethics and commitment that it takes to, well, save the world no matter how much he/she might have good intentions.

For me it's especially aggravating (to the point it might throw me out of the story) if the Chosen One has mentors and teachers that actively tell him/her that HE/SHE should be the one to do the work right now, while they coach, watch and cheer! Obviously if they mean the Chosen One should do the work when he/she is adult, that's a different (and very acceptable) story.

The biggest question I got, really, is… if you want the adults to be so hands off, the kids to be so independent in their interactions with the world, the world taking them mostly seriously… why don't you just age them a little?

Don't have them be 9 or 12 or even 15 years old. Have them be 19, 20, 25 if you want to have young heroes. They're still basically fledglings considering not too long ago, the age of majority was 21 in many countries. But they're not children.

Now, considering I write Without Moonlight where 4 frigging members of my cast that are pretty central, and at the line of fire, are under 15 years old it might sound a little rich for me to gripe about that sort of thing, but hear me out:

In Without Moonlight

1. none of the kids are “the Chosen One”. If any of them dies, the stakes of the war/resistance/struggle won't be terribly thrown off, if at all.
2. none of the kids are asked by any adult to “save the world” (or the microfilm), it's circumstance and desperation that forces adults to include them in a grander scheme by accident.
3. the adults are the ones positioned to lead, to take the risks and willing to fight the battles, and that doesn't change even when in practice things don't go that way.
4. the kids open the story doing precarious things, but they're doing them because they're desperate and homeless, and they don't think about any further instance beyond the survival of the moment, until the plot kicks in and forces them by circumstance to get tangled up in a grander scheme that they're still not actually central in.

So in Without Moonlight, it's desperation that pushes the kids to be in any kind of precarious role, and arguably, at least initially none of them actually have an adult role despite the danger of their daily life, and it could also be argued that they're being used by the adults in certain situations, but the one that calls the shots is the adult and not the kid.

It's only as they grow up, mentally or physically or both, that they gain respect among adults.

(Yes, I obviously think I'm going about it in one of the right ways to do it)



What I'm trying to say is not that using kid characters in heroic positions is bad in and of itself, far from it! Kid heroes can be awesome.

What I'm saying is that it should be done in context with and interaction with the adult world in which they are living and breathing. The adults should act as adults in relation to the kids, whatever that means- from protective to abusive to indifferent, but still in the manner adults tend to act and interact with children and teenagers.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

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comment

anonymous?

bravo1102 at 1:52PM, June 1, 2019

And then there are social scientists who claim that the myth of childhood as fundamentally different from adulthood to be romantic invention. Children are just selfish humans who haven't learned discipline, responsibility or sacrifice yet. Otherwise they are little adults with no special "childlike" anything in the head except what is learned as they get older. There is no innocence in childhood, merely ignorance and naivete. Or so some have said. So adults can act as children and children can act and reason as adults.

usedbooks at 9:56AM, June 1, 2019

@Tantz: Heh. I guess I have just so much aversion to the "chosen one" stories to think about them much. (I watch a lot of kid-protagonist plots. Just not usually save-the-universe ones. Sometimes in setting when they are one of a team that includes adults too.) I also find kids really super hard to write. It's hard to find that deep character that still has that child perspective. So many writers make them too adult-thinking or too simple. Kids are complex but in a different way.

bravo1102 at 9:51AM, June 1, 2019

@pauleberhardt: there are stories but nothing has grabbed attention in Europe. I'd be interested to see a story of a childhood to adulthood in the Vietnam wars 1945-75. There were early teen/tween soldiers there too, people who stayed at war for 30 years. Or even from European history the Thirty Years War, where you grow up fast because is there a childhood in an army on the March? Children were born, raised and then served all in the same regiment.

bravo1102 at 9:44AM, June 1, 2019

In one of the works I read recently there was an account of a drummer boy in the American Revolution with obvious PTSD and the 1000 yard stare. Considering the American Revolution lasted 8 years you could have someone totally grow up during it. And any number of YA books have been done. Look at Little Women or Across Five April's for the ACW. I can't get into the mind of a child must less write one. There's a wonder and yet a wisdom very few capture. Too often it's a adult's view of their own colored memory of long ago.

PaulEberhardt at 9:41AM, June 1, 2019

@bravo: Yes, that's true. There is a more current real-life counterpart, too, and that are child soldiers in Africa - at 14 they're still 14, but often quite psychotic and their lives are ruined for good in any case, because of the drugs and their deep emotional wounds. I don't see them appear in war fiction very often for some reason. Could this be, because there isn't the comfort of the 100 years that separate WW1 from today? Or is it because being forcibly recruited with no regard to their age looks less romantic?

PaulEberhardt at 9:21AM, June 1, 2019

As for the other child protagonists, the problem usually is that these children hardly ever come across as actual children but as what grown-ups think children should be like. This shouldn't be surprising, since most professional authors obviously aren't underage. Putting yourself into children's or even a teenager's shoes is much harder for most of us than most people realise, and that's why really good children's or YA fiction with relatable characters is so damnably rare. I'm in awe of those authors who can pull it off. Their heroes sometimes have to help save the world too, but they convincingly act their age as well.

bravo1102 at 9:06AM, June 1, 2019

It's a trope in war fiction to have the young recruit who grows up really fast. It wasn't unknown for boys as young as 13 to lie about their age and enlist. And after they've seen the elephant to be old weary men at 14.

PaulEberhardt at 9:02AM, June 1, 2019

This whole predetermination thing that "Chosen One" stories imply really puts me off every time. These people just don't realise in what a pathetic world we'd have to live if some poor kid could be chosen for something just by destiny. I mean, if everything was preordained, this child might as well do nothing at all, because none of what he or she does would matter anyway - the outcome would be the same in any case. No wonder these stories always become boring or one-dimensional at some point: they're fated to be that way. ;)

Tantz_Aerine at 7:39AM, June 1, 2019

Training youngsters is only to be expected. That was definitely not the point I was trying to make, nor them being forced to perform by circumstance, @ShaRose49. Of course they should be trained! And accidents do happen. // @Bravo well, of course in a setting where the age of practical majority (even if typical one is later on) is 12 or 15, then that's the scale by which my point should be taken into consideration :) // @usedbooks oh, those are not the types of settings and kid heroes I was thinking about :) // @ozone yeah, that's one of the good and proper ways to go about it with kid heros!

ShaRose49 at 7:33AM, June 1, 2019

My characters aren’t “chosen ones” but they are being trained in preparation for dangerous things—however in this world, getting trained as a young teenager is okay? They aren’t going to be sent to handle the most dangerous situations, but they will be accidentally thrown into and forced to be involved in many a life-threatening scenario. Idk if I’m doing it right but I’ll try

bravo1102 at 5:37AM, June 1, 2019

Chosen ones are inevitably orphans and at odds with adults, so it's exceptional to have them with a complete adult support system. They're "chosen" they transcend typical child-adult roles. Eye roll please. Children thrust into an adult world always face extreme danger and often end up dead. We would do well to remember that in the premodern world, one was considered and adult at 15 or 16. Women were adults at their first menstruation. They didn't reach their majority until 18 or 21 and couldn't own property outright but they were adults. Pretty sad to be forced to wear armor and lead an army as a teen but many did it once upon a time. William the Bastard?

Genejoke at 3:58AM, June 1, 2019

@Ozone, yup magician is a great example. Okay it does follow the chosen one thing but it does it well. The young lads do get into dangerous situations bit it's always against the wishes of the adult characters. As has been said, it's all down to the quality of the writing overall.

usedbooks at 3:26AM, June 1, 2019

I watch a lot of family movies. I love child protagonists in an adventure story. (At the same time, I abhor "chosen one" stories of all kinds.) The best, most natural child-story plots outside the child world setting (as you said, a camp or a school) are nostalgic small towns when children typically do get a high degree of freedom and are trusted by parents (world I grew up in) but they let the adults in on things when stuff gets serious. Or the children are placed in a situation where they have to step up, not because the adults are negligent but because the adults are in peril and/or there are no other options. I don't have kids in my stories. I find them tricky to write (even though I love well-written stories starring kids). Used Books youngest major character is 20 and youngest peripheral character is 13 (and I was very mean to her, sorry). There's a seven year old (minor character) who will show up soonish. I am agonizing over his writing.

ozoneocean at 2:30AM, June 1, 2019

It's usually just awful writing that leads to that sorry of thing I think? A really great use of child protagonist to start of a book would be "Magician" by Raymond E Feist. We're introduced to the world through the eyes of two kids... And experience it through them as they age. It's a great conceit in that you get all the wonder and niavitie at the beginning and experience and ability at the end.


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